Descartes on the Eternal Truths and Essences of Mathematics: An Alternative Reading

In: Vivarium
Helen Hattab Department of Philosophy, University of Houston Houston USA

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René Descartes is neither a Conceptualist nor a Platonist when it comes to the ontological status of the eternal truths and essences of mathematics but articulates a view derived from Proclus. There are several advantages to interpreting Descartes’ texts in light of Proclus’ view of universals and philosophy of mathematics. Key passages that, on standard readings, are in conflict are reconciled if we read Descartes as appropriating Proclus’ threefold distinction among universals. Specifically, passages that appear to commit Descartes to a Platonist view of mathematical objects and the truths that follow from them are no longer in tension with the Conceptualist view of universals implied by his treatment of the eternal truths in the Principles of Philosophy. This interpretation also fits the historical evidence and explains why Descartes ends up with seemingly inconsistent commitments to divine simplicity and God’s efficient creation of truths that are not merely conceptually distinct from the divine essence.

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